Sunday, April 17, 2005

Evangelicalism and the Bush Presidency.

Jeffrey Hart, Professor of English Emeritus, has a very good article today in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. He argues that the Bush presidency is populist and radical, not conservative, and its policies are corrupted by the influence of Christian extremism. He traces the periodic 'awakenings' in American history--"sustained by no structure of ideas"--and their pernicious influence in the current administration.

If we recall Leo Strauss's formulation that "Athens and Jerusalem" -- science and spiritual aspiration -- are the core of Western civilization, American Evangelicalism is a threat to both, through ignorance of both.

Except for that major qualification, Evangelicalism would not matter much if it were a private superstition, a sort of hobby, except that the Evangelicalism of the Bush variety has real and often dangerous effects on the world in which the rest of us, and even they, live.

You can find the text here. This is important, I think.


John said...

As a former student of Prof. Hart who thinks highly of him, I'm disappointed at his piece. George W. Bush is a Methodist, regarded as a middle-of-the-road Main Line denomination. "Evangelism" has its roots in the Great Commission which Jesus of Nazareth gave his disciples; as Prof. Hart suggests, it's at the center of Christianity. Four other Presidents have been Methodists, and this site gives a most illuminating breakdown of all Presidents' religious affiliations. William Jennings Bryan was a Presbyterian, but so were Woodrow Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower. Depending on who you consult, Reagan was a Disciple of Christ, as was LBJ. Evangelism, or evangelicalism, is, as Prof. Hart says, at the core of US national character and in fact one powerful source of American exceptionalism -- the Puritans and others who envisioned the City on a Hill were not stodgy.
In fact, the idea that Bush is a populist radical isn't even new; I think David Brooks was saying this in early 2004. I'm not sure if this was his intent when he ran for President, but events forced different views on him -- his foreign policy is in many ways an update of Wilson's, for instance, and on reflection, Wilson was right on foreign policy. It occurred to me a couple of years ago that Edmund Burke, who never visited the US, and while he sympathized with the colonists probably didn't understand them, is not really a guiding thinker for Americans (he was very popular, interestingly, in 18th and 19th century Germany). Tocqueville understands the US a lot better than Burke and would not, I think, have been much disturbed at G.W.Bush, seeing him as a latter-day Andrew Jackson. (So, I think, would Melville and Hawthorne).

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